3D Printer Filament Guide
In Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D printing, the filament is the material used to create the models similar to how ink is used on a regular 2D printer. It’s a type of plastic that can be melted and manipulated into different shapes and sizes. There are different filaments that you can use, each with their own set of properties and applications.
When experimenting with filaments, it’s important to understand the characteristics of each material, as well as the required print bed and extruder temperature. Some offer excellent strength, durability, impact resistance, and heat resistance, while others offer flexibility. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the numerous filaments you can use in extrusion-based 3D printing – from basic filaments like ABS, PLA, and PETG to composite filaments like magnetic and wood-filled filaments.
Note: Listed temperatures are in degrees Celsius (°C).
Extruder Temperature: 180-230
Print Bed Temperature: 45-60 (Optional)
Polylactic Acid (PLA) is the most common material used for desktop 3D printing, with all FFF/FDM 3D printers capable of printing with PLA in their stock setup. It’s easy to use, doesn’t strictly require a heated print bed, and is eco-friendly, all of which make it the perfect starter material for beginners. PLA is often the base material for composite filaments, which we’ll discuss in a separate section. While durable enough, PLA is more brittle than ABS and is best suited for cosplay parts, prototypes, and objects that won’t be subjected to high impact.
Extruder Temperature: 210-250
Print Bed Temperature: 95-110
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is the second-most common material used in filament-based 3D printing, right behind PLA. Compared to PLA, ABS is tougher and far more durable, with the ability to withstand exposure to high temperatures, making it the ideal material for phone cases and other forms of enclosures as well as LEGO bricks.
ABS is slightly more difficult to print than PLA. Unlike PLA, ABS requires a heated print bed to keep the deposited filament from deforming. A well-ventilated room is also recommended for ABS printing as the material’s odor might irritate your nose. Before experimenting with ABS, it’s important to check if your 3D printer is actually capable of handling sustained high temperature for an extended period. Some models come with poorly designed electronics not built for high-temperature prints.
Extruder Temperature: 220-235
Print Bed Temperature: 75-90 (Optional)
Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG) is a variant of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), a material commonly associated with water bottles. Between PET and PETG, the latter is the one usually used for 3D printing. It’s considered a mix of ABS and PLA. It’s tough and durable like the former but easy to print and odor-free like the latter, making it the ideal material for those who prefer a filament with the characteristics of the two most commonly used materials in 3D printing.
Extruder Temperature: 220-260
Print Bed Temperature: 70-90
Nylon is a rigid and slightly flexible material best suited for functional parts like gears, bolts, and hinges. It’s a high-temperature material that many 3D printers can’t print with out of the box. While some 3D printers can handle Nylon without upgrades (like the Original Prusa i3 MK3 and the LulzBot TAZ 6), the majority of desktop 3D printers on the market may need a hotend upgrade.
It’s important to keep in mind that Nylon is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture. That means you need to make sure the material is completely dry before printing. If Nylon gets compromised by moisture, it can lead to a poor print quality, regardless of the 3D printer configuration. To keep Nylon in optimum condition, the recommended practice is to remove the spool from the 3D printer as soon as the print is finished and keep it in a well-sealed, moisture-free storage.
Extruder Temperature: 225-235
Print Bed Temperature: 45-60 (Optional)
Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is a flexible filament with a rubber-like characteristic. It stretches and bends easily and can be used for a lot of functional objects. It’s actually a class of Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE), which is the general term for a copolymer with thermoplastic and elastomeric properties. Of all the classes of TPE, TPU is commonly used for 3D printing.
TPU is one of the trickier materials to print. Like with Nylon, many desktop 3D printers can’t print the flexible material out of the box. While most users recommend a 3D printer with a direct drive filament feeder system for TPU, a Bowden system works just fine. But you need to make sure the filament path is well constrained to get the job done.
Extruder Temperature: 210-250
Print Bed Temperature: 100-115
High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) is a dissolvable material primarily used as a support material when printing complex objects on a dual extruder 3D printer. It dissolves upon exposure to limonene. However, you can’t pair HIPS with just any other material. It’s best used with ABS due in part to the similar temperature requirement of the two materials. Although HIPS is mainly used as a support material, you can also use it as a standalone material. It’s a durable and lightweight material that requires a print setup similar to ABS.
Extruder Temperature: 180-230
Print Bed Temperature: 45-60 (Optional)
Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) is another material typically used for supports. But unlike HIPS, it can also be paired with PLA in a dual extruder setup, making it the more versatile support material. It easily dissolves when exposed to water, which is a lot more accessible than limonene. Similar to HIPS, PVA can also be used as a standalone material. However, due to its sensitivity to moisture, you need to take extra precautions when printing with it. It’s best used for quick prototypes that you don’t really intend to keep.
Extruder Temperature: 240-260
Print Bed Temperature: 90-110
Acrylic Styrene Acrylonitrile (ASA) is a material with ABS-like characteristics, and that includes durability and impact resistance. It was developed as an alternative to ABS, offering better weather resistance and significantly better UV resistance – both of which make ASA an ideal material for objects designed for outdoor use.
Unfortunately, ASA comes with the same set of drawbacks associated with ABS. It’s more difficult to print than PLA due to the high temperature required and requires a well-ventilated room to keep the potentially harmful fumes out of the picture. Considering ASA has ABS-like properties, it works well with the support material HIPS during dual extrusion.
Extruder Temperature: 210-230
Print Bed Temperature: 85-100
Polypropylene (PP) is tougher and more flexible than PLA, offering better heat resistance and impact resistance. Sounds like a great material to use, right? Not so fast. PP is known for being difficult to use, with serious adhesion and warping issues. It’s an advanced high-temperature material that requires an enclosure and a very specific print surface setup. We recommend that you stay away from PP until you have an excellent understanding of the ins and outs of 3D printing.
Extruder Temperature: 270-310
Print Bed Temperature: 80-120
Polycarbonate (PC) is an extremely tough and durable material, with superb heat and impact resistance. In addition, it can also bend to a certain extent without cracking, but don’t count on it to be as flexible as TPU or even Nylon.
Before you crown PC as the best filament for 3D printing, consider its drawbacks first. The material is hygroscopic, which means you need to make sure it’s completely dry before every print to avoid print quality issues. Like with other moisture-sensitive filaments, PC needs to be kept in a tightly sealed storage after every use to keep it in optimum condition.
PC can’t be printed on just any 3D printer. It requires high print bed and hotend temperatures, immediately disqualifying many desktop 3D printers under $1,000. An enclosure and an all-metal hotend are required for this material.
Extruder Temperature: 210-225
Print Bed Temperature: 130
Polyoxymethylene (POM) or acetal is a material known for its stiffness and resistance to wear, impact, heat, and chemicals. It’s a low-friction material commonly used to produce high-precision and high-performance components like gears, ball bearings, and knife handles.
Printing with POM is a real challenge, though. It’s sensitive to moisture and has serious warping issues. It requires an enclosure and high print bed and hotend temperatures. In addition, it doesn’t play nice with regular adhesives, so expect to have a hard time getting that precious first layer to stick. POM is an uncommon 3D printing filament, with not many companies committed to producing it for consumer use.
Extruder Temperature: 235-250
Print Bed Temperature: 100-120
Like POM, Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA) – also known as acrylic – is a 3D printing filament not many people are aware of. It’s a transparent, lightweight, and shatter-resistant material used as an alternative to glass. It requires a high-temperature setup, with a hotend temperature of around 245 degrees Celsius being the sweet spot. An enclosure is also recommended for this kind of material. Like with POM, don’t expect to see a lot of consumer PMMA brands on the market, considering it’s not a common material used in desktop 3D printing.
Extruder Temperature: 170-180
Print Bed Temperature: 25-45 (Optional)
Often associated with MoldLay, wax filament is a special 3D printing filament with wax-like properties. As the MoldLay brand suggests, this particular material is used for mold-making. It does not require a high-temperature setup or a very specific hardware, which means many desktop 3D printers on the market can handle it without a significant amount of tinkering.
Composite filaments combine a base material – often ABS or PLA – with other materials, resulting in a 3D printing filament with modified characteristics, especially in regard to appearance. While the print configurations required for composite filaments largely depend on the base material, some have very specific requirements, such as a hardened steel nozzle or a larger nozzle.
For the materials in this section, the required extruder and print bed temperatures are not listed as they depend on the base material.
Carbon Fiber Reinforced Filament
A carbon fiber reinforced filament is a 3D printing filament infused with carbon fiber, with ABS, PLA, PETG, and Nylon being the most common base materials. It’s lightweight, strong, and wear-resistant – properties that make it suitable for frames, RC car parts, and functional prototypes.
While the print setup largely depends on the base material, there are specific settings you need to apply when dealing with a carbon fiber reinforced filament. The material’s high abrasion is bad news for the nozzle. A hardened steel nozzle is recommended for this kind of material. A regular brass nozzle, which is the default for many desktop 3D printers, won’t last long.
In addition, a carbon fiber-infused filament is prone to clogging. To minimize clogging, it’s recommended that you use a nozzle with a diameter of at least 0.5 millimeters. Considering its properties and specific hardware requirements, carbon fiber reinforced filament is not recommended for 3D printing beginners, especially those who own a cheap 3D printer under $500.
Clay or ceramic filament is a high-temperature material with clay properties, meaning it’s compatible with some of the finishing touches normally applied to real ceramic products. It’s a brittle material that requires an all-metal hotend upgrade for the best results. It can be fired in a kiln just like a real ceramic product. Unfortunately, the list of companies that manufacture clay filament is not long, so don’t expect to be able to pick from a wide selection of brands.
This one’s a self-explanatory item. A color-changing filament is a filament that changes color when exposed to specific temperatures. Like with glow-in-the-dark filaments, the characteristics and print requirements of color-changing filaments depend on the base material, which is typically ABS or PLA, the most common materials used for 3D printing.
Conductive filament is an easy-to-print material, despite sounding like a complicated material. With PLA as the base material, 3D printers capable of printing regular PLA should be able to handle it without a significant amount of tinkering. Used for prototypes and low-voltage circuitry, conductive filaments are best printed on a dual extruder 3D printer. It’s not as fun to use as magnetic filaments or glow-in-the-dark filaments but it shines in certain applications.
A glow-in-the-dark filament is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a filament infused with a phosphorescent material, with ABS and PLA often being the most common base material. Its core properties and required print configurations depend on the base material. For example, if the base material is ABS, then configure your 3D printer for ABS printing. The applications of glow-in-the-dark filaments are obvious. Use them for decorating your room’s ceiling and creating a light switch that you can easily spot at night.
A magnetic filament is a material composed of iron powder and a base material (often PLA due to its ease of use). The iron powder makes the filament magnetic, making it arguably the most unique 3D printing filament out there. An object printed with magnetic filament features a cool gunmetal finish, with the overall aesthetic getting a boost after some post-print finishing. It’s worth noting that magnetic filament is not actually a magnet – a magnet will simply stick to it.
While magnetic filament is relatively easy to print, a specific nozzle is required for it. Like a filament infused with carbon fiber, this particular filament is very abrasive, which is not good for a brass nozzle. A wear-resistant nozzle like a hardened steel nozzle is recommended when printing with this composite filament.
A metal-filled filament is a material infused with metal powder, with PLA being the most common base material. It has the aesthetics and feel of real metal. Brass, bronze, and copper are the most popular materials used for this composite filament. An object printed with a metal-filled filament is heavier than an object printed with regular PLA, making it easy to differentiate a 3D model printed with a metal-filled filament from one simply printed with a metal-colored material.
When printing with a metal-filled filament, it’s important to keep a close eye on the nozzle as the metal in the composition makes the material abrasive. We recommend that you upgrade to a wear-resistant nozzle if you plan to use this composite filament on a regular basis.
Sandstone filament is the ideal material for architectural models, with its stone-like finish and texture adding to the authenticity. It’s a brittle material, effectively limiting its application to non-functional, decorative 3D models. With PLA being the base material, sandstone filament is not difficult to print – a high-temperature setup is not required. Speaking of temperature, this composite filament’s texture can be manipulated by adjusting the hotend temperature, allowing for some customization. For example, the finish comes out smooth when the material is printed in low temperatures.
A wood-filled filament is a filament composed of PLA and wood fiber, giving it the appearance and texture of real wood. The amount of wood fiber in the material depends on the brand. Since PLA is the base material, this type of 3D printer filament is easy to print and doesn’t require a heated print bed. When shopping for this particular filament, keep in mind that a wood-colored filament with no actual wood fiber in the composition does not count as a “wood filament.”
The best thing about wood-filled filament is that its aesthetic does a great job at hiding the layer lines. It’s also worth noting that the extruder temperature can affect the overall color of the model. If the extruder temperature is on the high end, the 3D model will come out with a darker color, and vice versa.